Shouldn’t we allow ourselves grow old gracefully and not be full of fear?

I happily slip into that dedicated senior space at my local supermarket

 

It didn’t dawn on me until I drove into my supermarket carpark here in Westport and compliantly awaited instructions from the guy who directs traffic.

It’s a busy carpark, even long after the tourists have gathered up their buckets and spades, surfboards and snorkels, and escaped back across the Shannon to the familiar sounds of M50 gridlock.

So, I’m sitting third in the queue when suddenly he-who-must-be -obeyed is ordering me to let down my window.

“There is a space for you over there, Ma’m,” he shouts kindly from behind his wooly snood. It is one of those weathery wild west days here.

“Oh! thank you,” I say.

It is then that I notice he is pointing towards signs for three Senior Citizen parking spaces. “But they are dedicated spaces for Senior Citizens?” I protest, aghast.

“Yes, they are. And you can park there any time.”

“I can park there any time?” I repeat, in a state of repressed indignation.

Since I wasn’t about to execute a three-point-turn or a doughnut and exit the carpark in a puff of exhaust fumes just because the attendant had decided I was in my third age, I slid sheepishly into the space.

I then turned off the ignition and allowed my jaw hover on my steering wheel.
The epiphany was painful.
I blamed the plague.
I cursed Covid like a fishwife.

Mary was a lady to the core: glamorous, intelligent, kind, loyal, generous and full of rather refined divilment

“Why the hell did I let my grey grow out?” I asked myself.

I’d always been a blonde, even if I was born with brown hair.

We are not ageing well here in Ireland, are we?

I mean culturally. The predominant pandemic image of old people portrayed in our media has been of wrinkled clasped hands or immobile feet in slippers.

Dehumanising, or what?

After all, old age isn’t a niche concept. It is a reality that we all face, if we are lucky.

My late mother’s best friend passed away recently and I feel so sad that I hadn’t seen her since before you-know-what. Mary was a lady to the core: glamorous, intelligent, kind, loyal, generous and full of rather refined divilment.

During the years when I was up and down to Dublin to help care for Mammy, before she had to be moved to a nursing home in 2015, Mary and I became good friends. In some ways, I got to know her better than I knew my own mother.

She always drove on our lunch excursions, since I travel by train if there are motorways or roundabouts with more than two lanes and three exits. Being the passenger proved perfect for my little tipple of wine, fuelled by open prawn sandwiches or vegetable roulades at the Orchard, near Celbridge, or up the road in Finnstown Castle Hotel.

There is big money to be made from these multifaceted attempts to disguise this inevitable natural process

Mary would always feign shock at my politically incorrect pronouncements and tell me I was a divil, which only incited further boldness.

As ageing expert, Marianne Heron wrote in these pages last August, the manner in which we view growing older can influence how we age. She was responding to how the Trinity-based Tilda study (Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing), showed how negative stereotypes of ageing threatened the health of older people. How do we challenge these negative stereotypes and not be the perpetuators of them? For many, women in particular, it is by trying to stem the natural process of ageing by having cosmetic surgery, dyeing our hair, and, indeed, to use that rather crass old saying, embracing the “mutton dressed as lamb” strategy.

Well, there is big money to be made from these multifaceted attempts to disguise this inevitable natural process.

Surely, isn’t it about finding a balance?

Shouldn’t we allow ourselves grow old gracefully and not be full of fear when our eyebrows grow sparse, our skin wrinkles, our boobs droop?

We can’t all do a Dolly Parton on it. And would we really want to?

As Heron observed in her article: “A key finding of the Tilda study was that older people with negative attitudes to ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities than those with positive attitudes. In other words, those who believe in the negative effects of aging come to experience them.”

I’m happy to confess that three months after my senior citizen car-parking denouement, I’m no longer wearing a trench coat and dark glasses when I slip into that dedicated space at my local supermarket.

Yay!

Now, where is that bottle of sherry?

I only wish my older friend Mary was still around to join me.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.